Making the Most of an Average Tournament

As I mentioned in my post last week, I spent my Memorial Day weekend competing in the 4th Annual Cherry Blossom Classic to help me prepare for the US Junior Open. I scored 3/7 and lost a couple rating points, but I thought I learned a lot this week – not just about chess, but about how psychology factors into the game as well.

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Last year’s edition of the Cherry Blossom Classic was one of two strong tournament appearances I had last summer. This year I intended to follow up my appearance in DC with another strong showing.

For those of you who have watched my Chess^Summit videos, you may recall I opened last year’s Cherry Blossom Classic with my best career win at the time against WFM and US Women’s Championship contender Jennifer Yu. This year, I had a little deja vu on the opening night, beating a 2355 rated opponent in an arguably equal position.

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Black to Move

Jacobson – Steincamp

In this moment, it’s critical that I play accurately to maintain an equal position. For example, if I had tried 22… Rab8, I would be violating my first Endgame Essentials principle in not having active play. White would enjoy a nice position, perhaps playing Rf1-e1-e4 with the idea of playing f4-f5 and breaking open my kingside. So I gave my opponent the b7 pawn in exchange for a rook on the 7th rank. 22…Rae8! 23.Rxb7 Re2

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Visually, we can already see how White’s material advantage is temporary, with c2 and d5 both weak. I’m not out of the woods, but I’m one step closer to proving equality. 24.Qg3 Qe4

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I wanted to play here before playing 24…Qxc2 since I have the immediate idea of …Re2-e3, indirectly attacking the h3 pawn. White would be tied up and I could take the more valuable d5 pawn instead of the pawn on c2. Furthermore, 24…Qxc2 25. f5! and I’m not happy letting this pawn reach f6 with mating ideas and an outpost on e7 for White’s rooks. My insertion more or less forces 25.Qf3 but now I can play 25…Qxc2 because I can meet 26.f5 with gxf5!

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This move more or less forces an equal rook endgame after trades on f5 because my rooks can easily hit both d5 and b2. But what about 27.Qg3+? Doesn’t this win a pawn and the game after 27…Kh8 28.Qxd6?

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Can you find the saving move that gives Black the initiative? I’ll give you a hint – the theme is activity and counterplay!

28…Rxg2!!

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Completely ignoring the hanging rook, because 29.Qxf8+ Rg8! forces White to give up the queen since the mate threat on g2 is unstoppable otherwise.

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I went on to win the endgame in 93 moves, but after the game my opponent mentioned 29. Rb8 as a drawing move, but in his line 29… Rh2+ 30. Qxh2 Qxh2+ 31. Kxh2 Rxb8,Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 14.39.32

I think White still has to prove equality. I guess there’s two morals to this game: 1) always look for forcing moves, but more importantly 2) if the position is drawn, don’t play with fire. My opponent, just like Jennifer last year, refused to draw simply because I was lower rated. I guess some things never change.

However, after this first game, I struggled to maintain the momentum, ultimately blowing a completely won position against a 2300+ rated player in a rather embarrassing fashion in the fourth round, then drawing my way out to finish at 3/7.

There weren’t many particular dazzling moments in this tournament when compared to my victory in New York last week, but there was one particularly historic game for me personally:

Round 6: Steincamp–Li

Back in March, I shared a game I played against Beilin Li, a friend of mine from Carnegie Mellon. Only a few weeks after that game, we played again with opposite color, but this time, he came prepared and outsmarted me in a Closed Sicilian. I doubt I’ll ever play Beilin again outside of Pittsburgh, but since we were rooming together and playing in the same section this tournament, we certainly made it possible.

Still recovering from the aforementioned loss, I didn’t want to play a game based off of preparation against a tactically astute player, so I decided to improvise and go for a more intuitive set-up, forcing Beilin to show me what he knows outside of the Closed Sicilian set-up. 1. Nf3

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Stopping 1… e5 and getting ready for an English. When I realized I was going to play him a second time back in April, I had prepared this to get Beilin out of his comfort zone. Maybe he was a little surprised, but if he followed my games, he’d know that the last time I didn’t open a game with 1 c4 was back in 2009 when I was only 1300! But Beilin was smart and chose 1…g6

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Still thinking I would play 2. c4, Beilin prepared to delay any central commitment by fianchettoing his kingside. If I opt for an English, Beilin could transpose into a Reversed Sicilian still unless I wanted to make him play a King’s Indian. Again, on this particular morning, I didn’t want anything sharp and made the real surprise move.

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2. e4! Ironically, I had this position as Black the night before, but the difference is that if Beilin had continued 2… c5 I know the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon as Black and he doesn’t – a theoretical advantage if you will. So Beilin opted for a Pirc and played well to hold a draw. The game didn’t hold much intrigue for spectators (that knew me at least) outside of the first two moves.

While Beilin had a rough tournament this weekend, I suspect he’ll be one of my most challenging opponents in Pittsburgh for years to come. While we may be “rivals” over the chess board, we’re close friends, which is why I’m pleased to announce that after the US Junior Open, I’ll be adding Beilin along with a few other talented authors to Chess^Summit (more about this later)!  Beilin writes a lot of great material on chess.com, and you can check out some of his articles here!

So what can I say about my own performance this weekend? Compared to last year, this was a much more difficult event. Six of my seven games were determined in the endgame, and by the end of the tournament, I had spent nearly 30 hours at the chess board! While it’s clear that I still need to work on my calculation between now and the US Junior Open, I think there are some positives I can take away from this tournament. First, since my trip to New York, I’ve gone seven straight games with Black unbeaten, scoring four wins in that stretch. Secondly, the time controls were the same as those in New York, and this time around, my time management was significantly better, and often I found myself pushing my opponent’s into some form of time trouble. Lastly, even though I only scored 1/3 against higher rated players, I was extremely close to beating two 2300s in one weekend (I had only beaten one going into the weekend). With the right preparation and discipline, I think I can beat these guys – which is what it’s going to take to win the US Junior Open in three weeks.

Next week is my last preparatory event for the US Junior Open, and I’ll be traveling to Charlotte for the Carolinas Classic. I’m currently in the middle of the Championship section, and I’m looking forward to a chance for redemption!

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5 thoughts on “Making the Most of an Average Tournament

  1. Jason Braun

    I was interested to hear what you thought of the round 5 game that I saw. I thought his exchange sac was very strong but then he misplayed it by allowing Bxf6 later (I think he played Re3 instead of moving the other rook off f6) and trading off his powerful knight that could have stayed on d5 forever. After that, I give you a lot of credit for trying to win a Q+P endgame up a pawn. I would have thrown in the towel and taken the draw a long time before you did!

    1. Out of the opening, I thought I achieved equality once he isolated his e-pawn, but then I actually misplayed it with …e7-e5, missing Rxf6 altogether! I agree he gave me equality once again, and at the critical moment chose Rb3-h3?! where he can only draw or lose, rather than simplifying the queenside with a draw.

      When he reached the position with the queen on f7 (I can’t upload pictures to comments, so for everyone I have a king on h8, pawns on g6, h6, d6, b7, and a7, and a queen on c2. White has a king on f3, pawns on h2, g2, and e4 and a queen on f7 with Black to move) I was pretty sure it was a draw but if I could get my queen on the back rank (d8 in particular) my winning chances were quite strong. However, this is somewhat unrealistic since White would have to let me achieve this. Instead, I got in …f6-f5 and actually missed a line that would have given me a big plus (the key was to route my queen to take on f5 with check – I knew this but missed the means to get there). After I conceded the d6 pawn the resulting queen ending is drawn since I can’t escape perpetual check without giving up more pawns.

      Out of principle, I always try to push when I can’t lose, but of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll get the full point either! 🙂

      1. Jason Braun

        That’s right, he played Rh3 threatening mate on h8 but gave you some pawns with checks, then you just played f6 to stop the mate threat. There had to have been something better than that (I think).

  2. Pingback: From Germany to Austria: The Dolomiten Bank Open – chess^summit

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